Washington State’s smallest offensive player made the biggest play of the 2014 season.
And he didn’t even have the football.
Vince Mayle caught a pass from Connor Halliday on a routine slant route and quickly raced upfield. Utah defensive back Justin Thomas had a clear route to the receiver and if he caught Mayle, it would still be a big play for the Cougars, but not a decisive one.
But 5-foot-9, 162-pound Robert Lewis sent Thomas flying, clearing the way for an 81-yard touchdown to give the Cougars a lead on the road against a Utah team that led 21-0 after the first quarter.
Lewis’ block on Thomas, who had around 16 pounds on the receiver, was an effort play, a moment of dominance over a bigger opponent that kept fans in a tizzy for a week afterward.
“I get it all the time,” Lewis said. “‘Oh, the smallest guy on the team making the big block.’ I think people didn’t expect it.”
He’s probably correct. When Lewis committed to play for WSU as a senior in high school, he was a scant 140 pounds, so light that the Cougars asked him to delay his enrollment for a season, a process called gray shirting, to allow him to gain some weight.
After a redshirt season in which he added even more size, Lewis debuted for the Cougars last fall and made three starts. Lewis is now listed at 170 pounds and appears physically ready to hold up to taking hits from Pac-12 defenders.
But he will always be one of the smallest players on the field.
“I’ve always had that,” Lewis said. “I’m pretty much used to it. I’ve always heard I’m too little. That just makes me go harder and know that people are going to underestimate me. That’s why I go hard.”
Lewis made one of the most impressive plays during WSU’s preseason camp Monday, turning around a defender on a wheel route to give Luke Falk plenty of room to hit the receiver on his way to the end zone.
Falk’s pass was overthrown and seemed well out of reach of the speedy receiver. But Lewis dove forward with arms outstretched to secure the pass in his fingertips even as his entire body hung horizontal above the end zone.
“Every time I’ve thrown to him, I’ve been impressed,” quarterback Peyton Bender said. “He’s a really fast player and a real playmaker.”
Now, he appears set to start for the Cougars at the H-receiver position, because of his speed, his concentration and, yes, his blocking ability.
Coach Mike Leach says that Lewis is among the best blockers in WSU’s receiving corps.
“Blocking is really about position first,” Leach said. “It’s nice to be big and strong but you have to be in good position.”
The undersized Lewis is now in a good position because of his blocking.